Mare Island Night Photography: Composition Experiments

Last weekend I attended a bi-annual night photography meetup hosted by The Nocturnes on Mare Island. These events are a great way to learn more about the history of Mare Island, meet other night photographers, and go shooting without being hassled by security. There's also pizza.

I was in a headspace where doing something different with my compositions sounded fun. The results are below, with some brief commentary and technical info:

Every time I walk by this alleyway at a Nocturnes event, George Loo and Andy Frazer are there. Instead of shooting from the entrance to the alleyway, I walked a little bit further down. The simple composition still maintains the vanishing point from shooting from the entrance. I was happy with the interplay between the stripes on the pavement and the light from the windows.
[Nikon D750 with 14-24mm lens at 15mm. 15 seconds at f/11, ISO 200].

The box van and Brazil-esque building vents caught my eye. I was happy with the off-kilter near-far composition, but the shot needed something extra. So I waited for a couple of cars and trucks to drive through. Surprisingly, the orange light on the building was not overwhelming, and a warm yellow vs. cool cyan color balance did not require much adjustment. 
[Nikon D750 with 14-24mm lens at 20mm. 30 seconds at f/16, ISO 200].

If you've photographed Mare Island before, you'll recognize this building. I shot almost straight down to get this perspective of the parking lot lines layered over the building reflection in a puddle. There was strong light from the building behind me, so the tripod shadows needed to be removed in post. Again, the yellow vs. cyan color palette is integral to the image, as there was no moonlight.
[Nikon D750 with 14-24mm lens at 18mm. 3 minutes at f/14, ISO 400].

The forklift up on the block amused me, so I walked around the area trying to find an interesting composition. A six shot stack was taken for a 15 minute exposure. The images were processed twice in Lightroom - once for the foreground, and at +2.00 EV for the sky. I'm always amazed at how much detail I can bring up from the shadows with the D750.
[Nikon D750 with 14-24mm lens at 19mm. 2.5 minutes at f/16, ISO 100].

I pulled the camera off the tripod to see how this reflection shot would look, and noticed some lens flare playing across the water. I shot a few frames of this composition at different focus settings, to make sure everything was sharp. I tried rotating the reflection shots 180º in post, but prefer the way I shot them. Another fun night out at Mare Island!
[Nikon D750 with 14-24mm lens at 19mm. 2 minutes at f/16, ISO 200]. 


Joshua Tree Cholla Cactus Garden at Night

The Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree National Park is a great place to view a dense grove of cacti. The 1/4 mile hike is right off Pinto Basin Road in the southern end of the park. David and I visited the garden under an almost full moon, and were the only ones there. I setup my tripod to take a panorama next to some cholla that were quite tall. The anthropomorphic cacti swayed in the wind under the moonlight.

Click below to view 3 night panoramas from the Cholla Cactus Garden.

Technical Details: Nikon D750 with Samyang 12mm fisheye lens, Sirui N-2204X carbon fiber tripod, Nodal Ninja R1 panohead. 6 shots around at an angle, and 1 down shot (nadir). Processed in Lightroom, stitched in PTGui Pro, output in krpano.


Mare Island Cranes Full Moon 360 Panorama

 A 360 night panorama of cranes in front of the dry dock at Mare Island Naval Shipyard

A 360 night panorama of cranes in front of the dry dock at Mare Island Naval Shipyard

At last night's Nocturnes full moon alumni event on Mare Island, two large cranes were positioned in front of the dry dock. Click the image above to see the interactive 360 panorama shot in the historic core area of the Mare Island Naval Shipyard.


In Memory of Steve Harper: An hour at Steve's Rock, Olmsted Point, Yosemite

 Steve’s Rock, Tioga Pass, Yosemite National Park, 1981

Steve’s Rock, Tioga Pass, Yosemite National Park, 1981

The reason I have been honored by my students naming this magnificent boulder "Steve's Rock" is because they knew how many times I photographed it, and how many times near the end of the exposure of eighteen or more minutes, an airplane would fly across the sky making a strange white line across the whole image, totally ruining the composition - and I would have to start all over again! Overhead is a major flight path towards some airport.
This HUGE boulder is sitting just above Tioga Pass at 8,500' Elevation overlooking Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley. It was stranded along with the great boulders around Olmsted Point during the Ice Age. -- Steve Harper


 In memory of Steve Harper, Olmsted Point, Yosemite, 2016 -- by Joe Reifer

In memory of Steve Harper, Olmsted Point, Yosemite, 2016 -- by Joe Reifer

To honor the memory of night photography teacher Steve Harper, I drove to Yosemite for the full moon this month. As I headed up Highway 395 to 120, a huge glowing orb was rising above Mono Lake. I parked at Olmsted Point, and took in the view down the valley to Half Dome. Then I hiked up the hill to take some pictures.

I didn't end up shooting Steve's rock until late into the night. I imagined how his famous image from 1981 looked. I remembered that the camera was at a low angle with the rock on the horizon line and positioned between the trees. I crawled around in front of the rock with my camera, and it felt like a photographer's version of a Buddhist prostration.

I wanted to bring my own sense of composition to the photo, because that's what great teachers like Steve inspire you to do. After some experimenting, I ended up with the camera closer to eye height, and opened the shutter. I laid down on the ground for a while to look at the stars, and listened to Can's Ege Bamyasi.

An hour later, my late night meditation on Steve's rock completed, I drove back down the hill to Lee Vining to get some sleep.



Night Photography: Nevada's Drive-Through Electronic Bombing Range

In a remote area of the Nevada desert is a Navy training range. Scattered amongst the remaining ruins of former ranches are tanks, trucks, cars and other simulated radar targets. Unlike the other closed training ranges in Nevada, this area is open to the public. No live bombs are dropped here during training, it's 100% electronic target practice. Driving down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere under a full moon and coming across a series of tanks in a field is a surreal experience. So is shooting all night and then using a tank as a windbreak at our campsite. Finding all of the vehicles and ruins in this area has been a fun night photography treasure hunt. After many hours looking at satellite views and two multiple day trips to the area, there's still a lot to explore.


Night photography: Post-apocalyptic fake villages built for military training

The full moon was bright enough to drive the Jeep down a dirt road with the lights out. It didn't matter, because there was nobody around for miles and miles. 

In a remote section of the Nevada desert, we found a series of simulated small villages for military training. Built in clusters, some of the structures featured courtyards with difficult access points and sight lines. One series of buildings had fake brick repairs, burn marks, and patched concrete. A simulated gas station featured pumps with printed gauges.

The metal containers and gates were creaking and banging in the wind. Moonlit clouds streaked by in an endless multi-layered Rorschach test. Perhaps we were near the pinnacle of paralleling the post-apocalyptic.


Mare Island Night Photography with The Nocturnes

Save Em - by Joe Reifer

Yesterday I attended a Nocturnes AlumNight at the former Mare Island Naval Shipyard. These bi-annual events typically feature a daytime tour of Mare Island's historic buildings, followed by a chance to share photos and eat pizza with fellow night photographers. The events are held at the Mare Island Museum, where you can learn more about the history of the shipyard. Amongst the interesting artifacts are a working periscope with a view across the Napa River. You can almost see what's on tap at Mare Island Brewing Co.

Brick Picnic - by Joe Reifer

I hadn't photographed Mare Island since 2014, and was surprised at how much some of the brick buildings have deteriorated in the last 2 years. A 6.0 magnitude earthquake on August 24, 2014 caused a significant amount of damage. Many buildings had severe cracks and fallen bricks. Some buildings have been completely leveled since my last visit.

Relaxin' at Mare Island -- by Joe Reifer

The building pictured above used to be flanked by a series of interesting metal stacks. The changes on Mare Island have given me a new sense of urgency to photograph there more often. Sign up for The Nocturnes mailing list to find out about workshops and future Mare Island events.